The next wave of passengers to arrive in B.C. on a migrant ship could see their journey extend into another province.
The Canada Border Services Agency is considering a plan that would see passengers on any migrant vessel that docks in B.C. in the near future moved to another Canadian city, a source told The Globe and Mail.
The MV Sun Sea arrived in B.C. last August carrying 492 Sri Lankan Tamils. Six months after it docked, 107 of those migrants - 101 men, six women - remain in custody.
Most of the migrants are being held at corrections facilities in Maple Ridge, one hour east of Vancouver. That's forced CBSA staff to make long commutes and work even longer hours. Legal services have also been stretched.
The MV Sun Sea docked less than a year after another vessel, the Ocean Lady, arrived in B.C. carrying 76 Tamils. Media reports in January said hundreds more migrants could arrive in B.C. on boats in the coming months.
The source said Toronto would be a logical choice for new migrants to be moved, since many of those who were on the Ocean Lady settled in Ontario once they were released from detention.
A CBSA spokeswoman declined comment on the plan and wouldn't say if it will be enacted, though she didn't deny it's been discussed.
"CBSA has a sound operational plan which includes rigorous options for any emergency situation. This involves emergency preparedness plans with our partners and other Government of Canada departments," Shakila Manzoor wrote in an e-mail.
Douglas Cannon, a long-time Vancouver immigration lawyer, said if a boatload of new migrants had to be moved, Toronto would make sense.
"The resources [in Toronto]can handle it. Resources including interpretation, the availability of legal counsel.… I think that would be perfectly appropriate," he said, adding he had not heard anything about the CBSA plan.
Chinese migrants who sailed to B.C. in 1999 were eventually moved to a prison in Prince George, more than 10 hours north of Vancouver. Mr. Cannon said he wouldn't support the moving of migrants to a place that was hard to reach, away from a major urban centre.
David Poopalapillai, a spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said his organization wouldn't oppose a move to another major city.
"Our government officials, whatever they could do to ease their workload, to make the process easier for them, it wouldn't matter if they came to Toronto, or Vancouver, or Calgary," he said.
Mr. Poopalapillai said when the MV Sun Sea arrived, CBSA officials had to track down translators in Toronto and fly them to Vancouver. "Had they had it in Toronto, it would have been much easier," he said.
The federal government on Thursday released a CBSA report from September, 2010, one month after the MV Sun Sea arrived. The report detailed interviews with the ship's passengers.
It said there was frequent mention during the voyage about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist organization banned in Canada. The Tamil Tigers lost the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.
"[There were]indications that they held heightened status onboard and a certain level of authority. These men fulfilled specific roles on the ship and had priority accommodation," the seven-page report said. It went on to say there was some indication Tamil Tigers music and video propaganda were played on the boat.
When the MV Sun Sea arrived, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said passengers paid $40,000 to $50,000. The report said the majority were charged $20,000 to $30,000. One passenger, interviewed by The Globe and Mail late last year, said she and her children paid $10,000 in all.
Supplementary budget estimates released by the federal government earlier this week said the arrival of the MV Sun Sea cost Ottawa $25-million.